Release Date: Aug 21, 2012
Record label: Nonesuch
The master guitarist opens this vigorously partisan gem of gritty picking and black humor with a real country-funk howl: "Mutt Romney Blues," sung from the strapped-to-the-carroof view of the Romney family hound. But Election Special is protest music delivered with a patriot's gifts – the American-roots beauty and expert fire in Ry Cooder's playing – and long memory. His mocking, fearful take on current events in "The Wall Street Part of Town" and "The 90 and the 9" is eerily close to the suffering and inequity in the old blues and folk covers on Cooder's early LPs.
Ryland’s points a righteous finger at the “deacons in the High Church of the Next Dollar”…In a recording career that stretches back more than four decades, Ry Cooder has never before made an album as immediate as Election Special. And yet, in numerous ways, this politically charged song cycle is right in the sweet spot of the LA-based master guitarist, musical archeologist, late-blooming songwriter and lifelong iconoclast. Following an 18 year hiatus from solo projects, during which time he focused on film music, the Buena Vista Social Club and one-off collaborations, Cooder reemerged as inspired as ever with his “Southern California trilogy”: 2005’s Chavez Ravine, 2007’s My Name Is Buddy and 2008’s I, Flathead.
It’s hard to think of another musical career quite like that of guitar legend Ry Cooder. He first surfaced in 1964, at the age of 17, playing in a rootsy blues-rock band called Rising Sons with Taj Mahal and drummer Ed Cassidy (who later co-founded Spirit with his stepson Randy California). They cut an album’s worth of material that went unreleased until 1992 before going their separate ways in 1966.
Alot of people recoil from overtly political songs. Ry Cooder (slide guitarist, Buena Vista Social Club major-domo and custodian of Woody Guthrie before he was fashionable) doesn't care. The first world is in dire straits and it's all the fault of Republicans – architects of Guantánamo and unfeeling people who tie their dogs to the roofs of their cars then drive off (Mutt Romney's Blues).
After last year's magnificent Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down, Ry Cooder returns to the political arena with a vengeance as the race for the White House intensifies. Musically, this is very much a DIY album, with Cooder matching his passionate vocals against his own guitar, bass and mandolin, with his son Joachim on drums. The anger, protest and concern is made all the more effective through his use of humour and unexpectedly upbeat melodies.
The risk in writing political songs, especially about specific issues and historical periods, is that over time, those that are run of the mill become dated. Not everyone can write timeless tunes like Woody Guthrie, Sam Cooke, John Lennon, and Bob Marley. Given the content of Election Special, Ry Cooder knew the risks going in and welcomed them. Using American traditional musics -- raw blues, folk, and roots rock -- Cooder's songs express what he considers to be, as both an artist and a pissed-off citizen, the high-stakes historical gamble of the 2012 presidential and congressional contest.
It’s a frustrating truth that the most affecting and durable protest music of the last 50 years has also been the least specific. Rather than skewering any single injustice and offering a viable corrective path, songs as varied as “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “We Shall Overcome,” “Little Boxes,” and “Inner City Blues” all succeed on a fuzzily subjective level; they focus on socio-political climates more overtly than ideologies, providing a snapshot of how certain issues appear to certain people without getting explicit about either. Perhaps this is why musicians who’ve tried to spew tonal bile directly at the White House or Wall Street over the last decade haven’t been able to use, say, Bob Dylan’s psychological ballads as templates, though some, like Green Day, have aspired to his eloquence or, like Neil Young, have repurposed his hits.
Cooder comes out fighting on this presidential election-themed collection. Colin Irwin 2012 Even by Ry Cooder’s characteristically rarefied standards, this is a noble curiosity. After inspirational adventures with Cuban, Mexican and many other musical styles – not to mention a series of blissfully evocative movie soundtracks – Cooder gathers up his considerable roots in blues and R&B and steams into Barack Obama’s corner to help him hang on to the US presidency.